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Administration Declares Ebola Response a Top Priority

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell announced the intent of the Obama Administration to make its response to Ebola a “top priority” in both a public health and national security sense. She used an event held by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) to encourage doctors to help inform patients about the disease and to be vigilant in screening and identifying potential cases. The Secretary also reassigned Dr. Karen DeSalvo, the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, to the post of Acting Assistant Secretary for Health, to aid her and the department in addressing the Ebola global health disaster. The Department of Defense also announced the formation of a 30-member Ebola response team that would be deployed within 72 hours to anywhere in the U.S. to provide direct care to Ebola patients and assist other physicians. Amid the report that a New York City physician who treated Ebola patients in Guinea had self-reported symptoms which sent him into isolation at Belleview Hospital for the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published enhanced guidelines for how hospitals need to respond in such cases. The new guidelines were used by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in treating and discharging the Dallas nurse, Nina Pham, after she tested Ebola-free last week. Among other things the voluntary guidelines require: the use of two gloves, waterproof boots, respirators, a full-face disposable shield and other personal protective equipment that leaves no skin exposed; and repeated training in how to dress and undress in the presence of a site manager and the use of virucidal wipes to disinfect the equipment. CDC is preparing another step to designate certain hospitals “Ebola Treatment Centers” in order to have all Ebola patients be treated under the strict guidelines. The CDC also said it will “actively monitor” for 21 days any person traveling from the Ebola affected West African countries. New York and New Jersey took stronger action requiring such travelers who may have been in contact with another person with Ebola to be quarantined for the period. Such actions did not stem the call by Republicans for even tougher measures which include the suspension of visas for individuals wishing to come to the U.S. from the affected African countries. It is reported that the Administration may request supplemental funding to address the Ebola outbreak and the Senate Appropriations Committee announced that a hearing on the matter will take place on November 6th. At a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the issue held last week, Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) criticized the Administration’s response to the Texas and New York Ebola cases as well as the naming of Ron Klain as the White House’s point person on the issue (he did not testify). A witness from the National Nurses United testified that the lack of mandatory guidelines and the shifting of CDC guidelines still leaves her members vulnerable to exposure. The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General also testified that the department was not adequately prepared for the crisis.

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